Attorney General reaches out to Muslim Americans
On a recent trip west, Attn. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. visited more than 200 young Muslim Americans at a Los Angeles mosque to discuss everything from their concerns about the Patriot Act to their distrust of the FBI.
The closed meeting was part of the attorney general's jam-packed trip to Los Angeles, where he also met with local leaders in South Los Angeles to talk about gang prevention and intervention. At his mosque "summit," Holder addressed immigration, racial profiling and demands to hold the Bush administration accountable for alleged abuses in its so-called war on terror, as well as employment opportunities with the Department of Justice.
The crowd of 18-30 year-olds, ethnically mixed and made up of Sunni and Shia Muslims, generally responded positively to the fact that he made the effort to seek them out, although several remained skeptical about his answers or the prospects for real change in law enforcement's attitudes towards Muslims.
"I think overall the event was a positive step on behalf of the Department of Justice," said Zainah Alfi, 23, who attended the meeting. "But some of those in attendance were upset at the lack of media presence there, and wondered if it was because he felt he could not answer questions if the media was there. He was funny, personable and warm, but when the real issues came up, his answers were politically correct." For example, Alfi said he denied knowing anything about the claim that a FBI informant was stationed in an Orange County mosque.
Yasmin Elhady, a UCLA law student who also attended the meeting, said Holder wouldn't talk about specific cases of abuses and racial profiling, or ongoing cases involving the closure of Muslim charities, nor did he offer any apologies for policies of the previous administration. His answers were very broad and he encouraged the youths to work for the government as a way to mitigate racial profiling. He promised to put more money and effort into boosting the DOJ’s civil rights division, and he committed his department to fostering trust with Muslim Americans.
There seemed to be general agreement that the meeting was a step in the right direction, according to. Dafer Dakhil, director of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation and mosque where the discussion was held.
"He was gracious and when he had an opinion about something, he shared it, even if it disagreed with the premise of the question," Dakhil said. "He tried to give us an answer, to the best of his abilities." The question, Dakhil added, is what, if anything, follows from this visit."
The next stage should be taking these concerns back to Washington and devoting his efforts toward addressing these issues beyond the surface level and leading a deeper, richer discussion into Muslim-American issues.
Photo: Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in Los Angeles. Credit: AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes